The Sunday Leader

Alcohol Addiction And How To Deal With It

By Dr. Marcel de Roos – Psychologist PhD

Alcohol Addiction And How To Deal With It

Of all the drugs available in Sri Lanka alcohol is still the one most frequently used. It is socially accepted, easily available, comes in many forms and tastes and is affordable for most people. To many users its effects are seen as pleasant: it relaxes, lowers inhibitions and is usually stimulating.
Dependency on alcohol is a slow and gradual process. One has to go through several phases before one is addicted.

-    Social drinking. A social drinker takes a glass of alcohol for social fun and because he/she likes it. Generally speaking the amounts of alcohol are not that high and drinking isn’t a daily routine.
-    Habitual drinking. Drinking occurs on most days of the week with a couple of glasses. For example at the end of the day after work to relax. The social context has disappeared and the only consumed drink is alcohol. In this phase the habitual drinker in his/her surroundings finds no problems with the regular use of alcohol.
-    Problem drinking. A problem drinker drinks alcohol every day and needs the drink to feel good. It can be an escape from daily tensions or problems, but actually it is a flight from reality. Because of the excessive alcohol intake chances are great that there will be physical, social and/or psychological problems. A special form is the so-called binge drinking: episodic excessive drinking. This binge drinking can cause severe health risks. Most problem drinkers try to hide their drinking problem from the outside world. Withdrawal symptoms like trembling hands and anxiety start to occur. The tolerance for alcohol has built up which means that to get the same effect one has to increase the quantity.
-    Alcoholism. In this last phase the user is addicted to alcohol. Basically his/her life is controlled by drinking. Very often drinking starts in the morning and is continued throughout the day. In this phase there is a severe physical and a psychological addiction. The withdrawal symptoms become intensified and there is a real craving for alcohol. The alcoholic starts to neglect him/herself. Long term alcohol abuse can cause a number of physical and psychological symptoms like cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic dementia, Korsakoff syndrome, depression and so on.

Anxiety and depression disorders are the most prevalent psychological symptoms associated with alcohol. These symptoms typically initially worsen during alcohol withdrawal, but usually disappear with continued abstinence.

The most important element in the treatment of alcohol addiction is that the user learns to be responsible for his/her addiction. Usually this takes some time for the problem drinkers; for the alcoholics it takes a long time. The physical dependence can be dealt with relatively easily (the so-called detox). The psychological dependence is much tougher to handle.

In psychotherapy one learns the history of their personal addiction and to recognise the trigger moments in the present which can activate emotional issues from the past. Alternative options to deal with those emotional issues are discussed. Other important topics to enhance the quality of life are building up your self-esteem, how to cope with worrying, being able to deal with temptations and setting realistic personal goals. It is also important to change one’s lifestyle. Starting to exercise three times a week and eating a healthy diet are the basics. Ultimately it’s about reinventing your life, giving meaning to your life and changing your outlook on life.

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